The following is a reprint of an interview with Ami Pedahzur, author of The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism. The book is now available in paperback:
Q: Have you ever worked for the Mossad or any other intelligence agency?
Ami Pedahzur: No. never. I was a senior medic in the IDF, and there was nothing clandestine or exotic in that.
Q: So what led you to the topic of the Israeli secret services and their struggle against terrorism?
AP: When I was six years old, IDF stunned the world when its elite forces released the Israeli and Jewish Hostages of Air France flight 139, who were being held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Entebbe, Uganda. Like most of the kids of my generation, I idolized the heroic soldiers and started reading whatever I could find about the Israeli struggle against terrorism. I have not stopped since then.
Q: One cannot avoid noting the critical tone in your book. What happened? What made you change your outlook?
AP: Well, after a decade of studying terrorism and especially during the second Intifada with the long campaign of suicide attacks, I started asking myself the following question: If Israel is indeed such a superpower in counterterrorism as it wants the world to believe, why has terrorism against Israelis only intensified and become more deadly over the years?
Q: So in one paragraph, what is the major argument of the book?
AP: I basically argue that Israel’s offensive counterterrorism policy has not proved to be successful. Yet due to political pressures, organizational interests, and emotional reflexes, policy makers tend to choose this failed approach over and over again. Moreover, I contend that not only has the war on terrorism failed, it has also led to a diversion of invaluable intelligence resources and military elite units from their primary objectives to questionable counterterrorism operations. Eventually, this undermined Israel’s national security.
Q: What evidence do you offer to support your viewpoint?
AP: I invested two years of intensive research in this book. In the book I provide a combination of interviews, academic research, and information gathered from print and online sources. I chose a chronological narrative, and thus I try to walk the reader through Israel’s encounters with terrorism since its early days. I pay special attention to hostage-rescue missions, the first and second Intifadas, and the two wars in Lebanon.
Q: How would the Israeli invasion of Gaza in late 2008 fit into the main argument of the book?
AP: It is too early to analyze this specific operation. Yet it is clear that once again Israel chose the path of war. I think that the argument I outline in the book answers the question of why. Israel’s attack came as a response to Hamas’s continuous attempts to terrorize civilians by launching rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into the Israeli heartland. So basically Israel had every right to respond to these provocations.
My question is the following: Did Israeli policy makers have a clear goal in mind when they launched the offensive? My concern is that the leaders know that such an offensive is unlikely to undermine the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and its abilities to keep on launching attacks against Israel. This operation, like many Israeli counterterrorism offensives in the past, seems to be driven by the policy makers’ desire to show the terrorized public that they are determined to inflict pain on the enemy. Public opinion polls conducted in Israel during the operation indicate that the public is indeed pleased with the invasion. In addition, the Israeli security establishment was eager to repair the damage to its reputation caused by the reckless offensive in Lebanon in 2006. Thus the heads of the army pushed the political elite to take the path of war.
The outcomes so far seem worrying. After a long air and ground campaign that took the lives of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians, Hamas is still capable of launching rockets into Israel. Despite this high toll in human lives, it seems that any agreement to end the current hostilities will not change the strategic reality. Namely, like the case of Hezbollah in 2006, Hamas will not lose its political power. Its sponsors in Teheran will rearm it, and the threat to the Israeli population will remain the same or increase. One important lesson from the war in Lebanon was internalized in Israel. The rear command, as well as the civilian authorities, seem to respond to the attacks of Hamas impeccably. This defensive path is important not only because it helps minimize casualties but also because it positively affects the morale and resilience of the residents of Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Beer Sheva.